Among those who came to town in that bustling era was 22-year-old Henry Adams, the grandson of a president (John Quincy Adams), and great-grandson of a Founding Father (John Adams). The young Adams served as an unpaid, unsigned correspondent for the Boston Daily Advertiser, the largest newspaper in that city at the time, according to Stegmaier, whose forthcoming book, “Henry Adams in the Secession Crisis,” dissects Adams’s previously uncollected “letters” from Washington.
Adams, who would later distinguish himself as a leading intellectual and historian (“The Education of Henry Adams”), had some good contacts, too. His father, Charles Francis Adams, was a congressman from Massachusetts and a moderate Republican who led a faction that maneuvered to keep border states such as Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia and Maryland from seceding in the months before the war. Henry Adams — whose newspaper pieces mirrored his father’s political positions — served as his father’s private secretary in Congress while he did his newspaper work.
News reporting had been revolutionized more than a decade before the war by the advent of the telegraph. The technology loomed even larger as the war spread. It also became a convenient means to control the boisterous Washington correspondents.
Since daily dispatches from Washington had to pass through telegraphs operated by war censors, the Union government found it easy to suppress stories unfavorable to the North’s cause. As a result, the day after the first battle of Bull Run in Manassas in July 1861, some Northern newspapers got the story wrong. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “A Great Union Victory” in its first edition. Reports of Union successes in the morning made it onto the wire, but not news of the arrival of Confederate reinforcements in the afternoon.
Journalists employed by Republican newspapers were more fortunate than those employed by Democrats; the latter often saw their work land at the bottom of a government wastebasket. The AP’s Gobright, whose wire service served Republican and Democratic papers alike, had no such trouble. “My despatches [sic] are merely dry matters of fact and detail,” he said of his success in beating the censors.
Ritchie calls Gobright one of the earliest “objective” journalists — impartial, unbiased, apparently untainted by fear or favor. In a city boiling with war, and frenzied news about it, the seeds of modern journalism had begun to sprout.